Dronemaker DJI has staged a massive robotics competition in China called RoboMasters in recent years, during which students build and code robots fighting in a literal arena. Now, DJI wants to sell a more accessible version of this idea to children in the US, Europe, and Japan with a toy robot toy tank called RoboMaster S1.
The RoboMaster S1 is part of a remote-controlled car with camera, part of a learning platform and part of a DJI that plays its mature hardware and software muscles. The S1 is available from Wednesday for 499 US dollars and can be driven with a mobile app or coded for yourself. It is equipped with 31
Similar to DJI's latest drones, the S1 can detect and respond to gestures and sounds or track objects. (It's equipped with a camera with a f2.4 aperture and a wide 120 degree field of view that transmits its view to the mobile app via Wi-Fi.) But unlike DJI's drones, which can be S1 Shoot down projectiles in the form of small gel beads. These pearls are very small in shape but puff up when immersed in water for a few hours. They are non-toxic, but require cleaning after use.
The RoboMaster S1 can also be operated with a controller. However, this will be sold separately in an add-on package that includes an extra battery and more gel beads available at a later date.
The S1 was impressive during a brief press conference. It responds to controls with an almost imperceptible delay, both in terms of crossing the ground and responding to target commands. DJI let us go through several different types of use cases, including a race where we not only had to defeat our opponents, but also had to scan a series of images to win.
We also tested the S1 robots in a "combat mode" in which we drove them through a makeshift arena. The person who scored the most points won (shot by opponents in the LED-lit areas of the S1, just like the real RoboMasters, though this is possible with gel beads or lasers), and on the way there were chances to charge Recover your health and acquire special abilities by scanning special images created around the arena.
DJI believes, however, that the S1 will give children outside of China a taste of what it's like to be part of the RoboMasters competition. As such, the S1 is highly customizable and made for crafting. It comes disassembled, so the kids have to put together just about every piece to get started. You can write Scratch 3.0 or Python code to control things as well as the torque of the wheels. So they can program the S1 to do all sorts of things, like evasive maneuvers in combat (another echo from the competition).
DJI has developed a series of video tutorials and tutorials that help users learn how this works, even if they have never coded before. "The hope is that robotics will become an important sport, like football or basketball. This is our vision for this product, "said Shuo Yang, the director of the S1 project, on Bloomberg .
The S1 announcement comes at a somewhat precarious time for various reasons. For one, the US is currently involved in a trade war with China, while accusing one of its largest private companies (Huawei) of spying on behalf of the Chinese government.
This combination of forces has made the hacker attacks so great that the US government is looking for Chinese companies that could pose a national security risk. Just last month, the Department of Homeland Security warned against Chinese-made drones that could potentially collect sensitive data and send it back to the Chinese government. Since DJI makes up nearly 80 percent of the drones in North America, it was considered a shot over the bow of the dronemaker.
The RoboMaster S1 is obviously much more limited in terms of range, but has a high-resolution camera on board. This could raise other concerns as consumers (and even some government members) have become more sensitive to admitting cameras in private homes.
DJI also presents the S1 in a somewhat militaristic language that might appeal not only to some consumers given the current tensions between the US and China, but also because last week saw the 30th anniversary of the protests Tiananmen Square when a man stood in front of (and stopped) Chinese military tanks.